Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

This windy Internet...

Ralitsa Kovacheva, August 3, 2010

Where will regulation of the draft media law in the Internet extend to, is one of the most unclear moments in the bill so far. As Gheorghi Lozanov, the Chairman of the Working Group on the Bill said: "Everything is very complicated, very windy. The windows are open and there is current from everywhere."

euinside asked Professor Nelly Ognyanova to comment on this topic. She teaches European media law and EU information policy at the Sofia University “St. Klyment Ohrydski” and was a member of the National Council for Radio and Television.

The question "How far are we going to get on the Internet” (raised by Gheorghi Lozanov during the meeting of the Working Group on June 17, 2010), Nelly Ognyanova answered:

Nelly Ognyanova: Media law regulates content. It is not interested in the Internet, but rather in particular audiovisual content, no matter where it is being found. This is actually a principle, called technology-neutral regulation. A television programme can be disseminated via spectrum, cable, satellite or Internet, but the idea is content requirements to be the same regardless of the media. Thus the application of EU rules is gradually turning to online content too.

At this stage the Working Group has chosen as a starting point the EU 2010/13/EU Directive from March this year, which talks of providers of audiovisual media service. What cannot be treated as such according to the document:

Nelly Ognyanova: The Directive does not cover on line versions of printed publications. It does not cover activities, which are not competitive to traditional television stations, such as private websites and services the main function of which is provision or distribution of audiovisual content, generated by private users for the purpose of sharing and exchange within communities of interest.

Finally, the Directive does not cover cases where audiovisual content is merely incidental to the service and is not its principal purpose. Examples include websites that contain audiovisual elements only in an ancillary manner of aid, such as animated graphical elements, short advertising spots or information related to a product or service outside the audiovisual field. Whether it is a case of “ancillary manner” or not is a matter of expertise.

When it comes to regulation of the Internet and how far it can go, we always come up with the question whether blogs are media, what criteria the difference should be based upon and what is the international practice in terms of regulation:

Nelly Ognyanova: The issue of definitions is different from the issue of the scope of the law. So my suggestion was to separate these two discussions. The scientific concept is still developing, I personally support the position that blogs are media. There are theoretically sources that support this view. There are various acts of EU institutions in which they (for specific purposes and without definitions) relate blogs to new media.

Practically more important is how to determine the scope of laws that regulate online content. Recently in our country draft media law and electoral code are being prepared. Both projects use different terms and refer to online content in different terms. With media law it is easier because there is an EU directive, which Bulgaria takes into account. With the Electoral Code however, the decision has to be taken by our legislature. It can consider not including online content in the law, but the trend is the opposite - more countries regulate electoral campaigns in the Internet, no matter how difficult this is.

euinside will continue to monitor this issue and seek the opinions of experts and fellow journalists. To what extent the new law will be actually “new” and opened to the future will be known even by its name. Because the Working Group has yet to decide, after the words of its chairman Gheorghi Lozanov, "if this will be a law on media in general, what we call media and whether we will stop to call it media, as I suggest, and give up radio and TV at all”. The condition these questions to get their answers, is journalists to take part in the debate too – both from the "traditional" and the "new" media (or blogs) alike. This is the only guarantee that the law will serve society, rather than lobbying interests.